Reviewing to Remember More

West Coast Swing Online Grab Bag

Do you ever arrive at a dance eager to do what you learned at your last lesson—only to discover that you can’t remember what you did? All of us, at one time or another, forget things. We even forget things that we are excited about, like new moves or styling variations. But, it’s possible to remember more without having to review more, as long as you review at the right times.

There has been a lot of psychological research on memory. There are several kinds of memory: working memory, which is what you’re thinking about right now in order to read this post; short-term memory, which is the stuff you’re holding in the your mind right now (like why you chose to read this post), and long-term memory, which is material you can retrieve when you need it. Learning is a process of moving information from your working memory into short-term memory and then consolidating it in your long-term memory.

Although everyone knows that reviewing information helps build your long-term memory, a lot of people don’t know that you can move information into long-term memory more efficiently if you review at the right times. This concept, known as “spaced repetition,” is used in a wide variety of domains, from foreign language to animal training. This post will show you how you can use spaced repetition to remember more in dancing. The key times are: 10 minutes, one hour, one day, five days, and one month.

10 Minutes: The First Reminder

If you’ve been working on a movement in class or a private lesson, you won’t forget it instantly. But, your memory will start to fade unless you reactivate that knowledge. You should do a quick review about 10 minutes after you are done practicing. In other words, right before you leave the studio or right after you get home, go through what you worked on. Practicing in class, taking a 10-minute break, and then reviewing requires you to refresh your short-term and working memory, which makes it more likely that the information will stay in your long-term memory.

One Hour: Building a Memory

After an hour, your brain has drifted onto something else. As a result, reviewing after an hour forces your brain to retrieve the information from your long-term memory. One hour is still recent enough that even a weak memory won’t have faded entirely, so reviewing now reinforces your new knowledge. The result is that you go from having a weak long-term memory, which is in the process of fading, to a newly strengthened long-term memory.

One Day: Making It Stand Out

By the end of the first day, you will have had at least three exposures to the material: once when you first learned it, once during your 10-minute review, and once at your one-hour review. At this point, the long-term memory is there. The big question is whether you will be able to retrieve the information easily. Another review sometime during the next day makes the information stand out from everything else you did the day that you first learned the material. Doing a one-day review thus makes it much easier to recall what you learned. For most people, doing these four reviews is enough to establish the memory solidly.

Five Days and One Month: Keeping It Alive

The reviews at the five-day mark and the one-month mark are much more flexible because you already have established a strong long-term memory. These reviews make sure that you keep using that memory so it doesn’t fade away. By reviewing your new knowledge periodically, you make sure that the memory stays alive.

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